Guest Column: February is Children’s Dental Health Month

By Dr. Katina Morelli, DDS

Many parents don’t realize that cavities are nearly 100 percent preventable. Babies are born with a healthy mouth and teeth. So from birth, it’s important to establish good oral health habits to keep away cavity-causing bacteria.

Unfortunately, a lot of children in Illinois still end up with cavities. Fifty-three percent of Illinois third graders have experienced cavities. Among those children, 29 percent have untreated cavities, and 5 percent have cavities that need urgent dental treatment.(1)

Since February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, it’s a great time to brush up on how to help keep cavities out of children’s mouths and create a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Throughout the month, thousands of kindergarten through third-grade students in Illinois elementary schools will enjoy “Land of Smiles,” an entertaining oral health education program that teaches proper brushing and flossing techniques, good and bad foods for the teeth and why it is important to visit the dentist regularly. As part of our mission to improve the oral health of the communities we serve, the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation provides the program free of charge to more than 100 schools each year.

Celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month by teaching and reinforcing good oral health habits at home. By making some simple changes, your children can grow up to have healthy teeth:

→ Prior to the eruption of the first tooth, wipe your baby’s mouth and gums with a clean, damp cloth or gauze pad.

→ Avoid sharing toothbrushes, bottles, spoons and straws to protect babies and children from the transfer of cavity-causing bacteria.

→ If a bottle is needed at bedtime, fill it with water rather than sugary liquids, like juice or milk.

→ When primary teeth begin to appear, they should be cleaned with a soft, child-sized toothbrush and a pea-sized dab of children’s toothpaste, twice a day.

→ When your child has two baby teeth adjoining each other, begin using floss daily.

→ Unless a problem is suspected, your child should visit the dentist by his or her first birthday or within six months after the first tooth erupts, with regular appointments thereafter.

→ Brush and floss your child’s teeth regularly until he or she is around 9 years of age. Supervision and working together is necessary until the child is capable of doing it on his or her own.

For more oral health information, visit To find out if the “Land of Smiles” show is visiting a school in your community, go to

1—Illinois Department of Public Health, Healthy Smile Growth Assessment, 2008-2009.

Dr. Katina Morelli, DDS, is dental director for Delta Dental of Illinois, headquartered in Naperville.

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